Notes from a wet Munich summer

Summer in Munich has gotten off to a rather rainy start. Some people are complaining about this. Not me!

Luckily our balcony garden doesn’t seem to mind the rain. We’ve been enjoying a steady stream of fresh strawberries, peas, and zucchini flowers. Yum.

This weekend 18,000 orange-shirt-clad people ran through the city in the Munich Stadlauf. We went to cheer on some friends. My nose was very happy that it wasn’t hotter out.

This week Munich is offering up the perfect rainy-weather activity, Filmfest München. There are so many interesting-sounding movies on the schedule that I’m having trouble figuring out what all to see.

Rain or not, I’m enjoying being home in Munich for a while. Which reminds me, I still have several spring trips to blog about…

A Rainy Day in Bad Tölz

Munich has been awfully rainy this week. What to do? Grab some friends and hop on a train somewhere, of course. Bad Tölz is an adorable little town about an hour from Munich. Despite the rain we had a lovely day. We…


…wandered the streets and imagined how cute they would be if the sun were out.


…went shopping for hats (among other things).


…found the world’s sexiest potholder.


…consumed Kaffee und Kuchen, little old lady style.


…saw the cutest train station in the world.


…and ran off to join the “Wu Wutang Clean”. I hope there’s no scrubbing involved in the initiation ceremony.

Oh yeah, and some of us even appeared on Bavarian television. Quite the exciting day.

Museum Brandhorst: Munich’s newest stop for contemporary art

I still live in Munich, I swear. Never mind the fact that I’ve neglected to write a single post about this city in the last two months.

This weekend we decided to check out Munich’s new museum, the Museum Brandhorst. I’ve been marveling over the building’s stripey exterior for months now. The colorful ceramic bars are certainly… different. The interior is quite lovely and houses the collection well.

Cy Twombly is the star of the Brandhorst collection. I’ve never been a particular fan of his paintings, but I really liked the Lepanto series (which ocupies the museum’s central gallery). Plus it reminded me of my favorite iphone game, Trace.

My personal favorites in the exhibit were the large figurative paintings by Eric Fischl. I’ve always had a preference for paintings, but the museum has plenty of art made out of giant cardboard boxes, neon lights, and human hair, if that’s your thing.

Museum Brandhorst is in the same area as Munich’s three Pinakotheken, and can be visited along with them on a €12 day pass. Like the Pinakotheken, Museum Branhorst only costs €1 on Sundays, but that price attracts a lot of folks. If you like to get audioguides, the total price difference (a couple euros) isn’t worth the Sunday crowd.

Ask the Expat: a week in Bologna

My husband and I are planning our trip to Europe this summer and have decided on spending some time in Bologna. I think we want to make it our home base for about a week. We will likely be there the last week of August after my husband finishes a course in Ireland. I have read things are quiet in Bologna at that time, but that is really what we are looking for. We are considering a day trip to Venice and a trip to Parma to do the food factories. Would you have any other suggestions? Any must-sees or eats in Bologna or other cities to visit? I really wanted to see more of Tuscany, but didn’t think that was possible without a car which we won’t have. This will be our first trip to Italy and we are really looking forward to it. We did way too much hopping last year so while we want to see a lot of things we are also looking forward to some relaxing dinners and great wine.

- Lori, Blondie in Brazil

Good choice! Bologna is a lovely city, and there are tons of great day-trips you can take from there – Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena, Verona, Florence, Milan… you can check out the Trenitalia site for travel times. Bologna is a train hub for northern Italy, and the number of interesting destinations within 1-2 hours is practically endless. Since this is your first trip to Italy, I’m tempted to encourage you to hit some of the big, famous bits, such as Venice and Florence, both quite convenient to Bologna, but make sure you fit in at least one smaller town, too.

Since you also mention wanting to see some of Tuscany, consider Siena or Montepulciano. Both can be reached from Bologna by train/bus in around 3 hours (so maybe you’d want to go for an over-night).

In Bologna itself, I’d recommend: the museum at the Accademia; gelato at Grom; pizza at La Mela; a stroll through the small food vendors in the area between Piazza Maggiore and the two towers; a look around the interior of San Petronio (keep your eye out for the fresco of the two-headed people eater); several hours of just wandering around exploring the city center. If you’re up for a longer walk, head up to San Luca, a basilica up on a hill just outside of the city. You can walk under zig-zagging porticoes most of the way up.

Now for the big caveat: August can indeed be very, very dead in Italian cities. Not just slow, but practically shuttered down. In Milan at least 3/4 of restaurants and shops were closed down for multiple weeks if not the whole month. It got very hot and felt deserted. Bologna is similar, from what I remember (it was many years ago that I lived there). Honestly, it could get pretty boring spending a whole week there with not much open, and not much restaurant choice. The main holiday is August 15th, so the farther away from that you get (ie, as late as possible in the month) the more open you will find things. If you can re-juggle your schedule to push your time in Italy into September, all the better. Cities in other European countries don’t get nearly as ghost-towny as Italian cities do in August.

Bologna is known for its food, and the wine is cheap and plentiful, so you should have no trouble fulfilling that part of your vacation goal.

Have a great trip!


Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Tallinn: worth a visit

As I mentioned in my first post about Estonia, we absolutely loved Tallinn. The old medieval city couldn’t have been cuter, and learning about the history of Estonia was quite fascinating. Estonia has been independent for very little of its history, which makes this particular period seem quite cherished and celebrated. Perhaps it’s this new-found pride in their country that allows the Estonians to smile politely at the herds of tourists tromping through their historical city center.  Continue reading

Cheap summer fun in Zurich

This weekend we grabbed our perpetually-packed suitcases and headed to Zurich to visit friends. The weather was what most people call “gorgeous”, and we made the most of it by spending time in and around the lake (and on the roof deck).

Lake Zurich is the part of Zurich I miss most, especially during the summer. The view is unbeatable (Zurich’s charming skyline in one direction, snow-capped Alps in the other), and the water is so clean and clear it begs you to get in and swim around. The lake is surrounded by badis, areas where one can swim, sun, drink crappy beer, etc. for around a CHF 6 entrance fee. But if that’s too steep for you (and you can live without a changing room), you can also just jump into the lake for free in many areas.

And if you’re looking for more free fun in this ridiculously expensive city, this summer you can wander around admiring its latest city art display: painted plant pots. In the same spirit that brought cows to Chicago* and Mr. Potato Heads to Providence, Zurich has decided that this year, giant pots were the way to go. At first I didn’t like them very much, but they grew on me over the course of the weekend. I think the penguin one was my favorite.**

And now, after five back-to-back trips, I think I’ll stay home for awhile. I’ve been missing Munich.

—-
* Actually Zurich did the cows before Chicago did. Zurich also did teddy bears a few years back.
** Notice how all the penguins are wearing suits, except for one with a mohawk and a t-shirt that says “Lech mich”.

Helsinki and other travel notes from Finland

Thumbing back through the guidebook to remember what we did, I notice how very warped and wrinkled the Helsinki pages are. It rained for almost all of our time in Helsinki, but we still found it to be a delightful city.

Helsinki Sights

We got quite waterlogged exploring the city by tram and on foot. The harbor area was my favorite. On our one sunny morning we had a breakfast of coffee and Finnish pastries while people-watching at the dockside outdoor market. The nearby indoor market was fun, too. Lots of reindeer jerky.

I also loved the Kiasma Museum, which contains an impressive mix of contemporary Finnish and European art.

What else? We took in a couple churches, such as the rocky Temppeliaukio Kirkko, but otherwise we didn’t do all that much touristy stuff in Helsinki, opting instead to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. It had a good city vibe.

We passed on the beef together, and we also resisted the temptation to buy boots with flames and metal spikes. But just barely.

Helsinki Eats

Kynsilaukka – a garlic-themed restaurant: what’s not to love?

Bar Tapasta – a crowded and quirky little place with yummy, reasonably-priced tapas and friendly service.

Texas – I’m almost ashamed to admit we ate here, but the veggie tacos were impressively good (hey, decent Tex-Mex is hard to come by in Europe!).

Helsinki Sleeps

We stayed in two different accommodations in Helsinki, both of which seemed like great deals for such an expensive city. The first was the 4-star Crowne Plaza Hotel, which offers significantly discounted weekend deals. The deal didn’t include breakfast, but it did include use of the sauna, pool, and fitness center. On our second pass through the city we stayed in a StayAt apartment. The apartment was clean and new, and the kitchen was decently stocked with cooking implements. We made our own dinners there, which was great because 1) it saved money and 2) it gave me a reason to buy stuff in grocery stores. I love hanging out in grocery stores in new countries; it’s even better when I get to eat stuff from them.

Finland: Useful Travel Websites

Finland as a whole is a very easy country to travel. Public transportation is efficient and modern. English is widely spoken (except by bus drivers, apparently), although Swedish is often the second language on signs. We could tell the difference between Swedish and Finnish based on whether we could glean any meaning out of the words: Swedish was similar enough to German for us to be able to get the gist most of the time, but Finnish was utterly unrecognizable. At least it was fun to listen to.

VR – Finnish Railway – useful schedule and other information for trains around Finland.

Viking Line
– ships between Finland, Sweden, and Estonia.

Tallink – the other large company running ships between Finland, Sweden, and Estonia.

Ask the Expat: how did you get here?

Hey, can you point me to any past posts that tell a bit more of your story? How you became an expat (nomad)? Thanks again!

-Bonnie, The Blue Suitcase

I admit, this blog is definitely missing an “about” page, which I always intended to add whenever 1) I got around to switching blog platforms or 2) Blogger started supporting pages that aren’t blog entries. So far neither one has happened.

The short answer to your question is that we moved to Munich after my (American) husband got a job here with a local company. But that’s only part of the story; Munich is basically my 5th expat adventure in Europe, and each one began differently. Here’s a quick run-through:

Bologna, Italy, was my first experience living in Europe, during my junior year abroad in college. I was hooked.

My second expat gig was as an English teacher in eastern Germany. I applied for and received a grant from a foundation which was trying to bring more native-speaker English teachers to eastern universities, which were sorely understaffed after the wall fell and demand for English skyrocketed.

Fast forward a few more years (and careers) and I’m working in New York for a finance company. I’ve expressed my desire to eventually be transferred to one of the foreign offices, but I don’t expect it to happen for a while. Then the company opened an office in Milan, Italy, and decided to send someone from the New York office to staff it. Suddenly that college Italian was coming in handy, as it got me a job in the new office. I was off to Milan, new husband in tow.

At a certain point we decided we were ready to be done with the situation in Milan, but we wanted to stay in Europe. My husband started applying to jobs in a couple countries, and that led to him working for a company in Zurich, Switzerland (which is when I started writing this blog).

After about two years in Switzerland, we started itching for another new adventure, which led to more job applications around Europe, which led to our current situation in Munich. We’ve been here for a year and a half, and have no plans to move on anytime soon.


Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Åland by tandem

Our time in Åland was marked by dramatic, stormy weather, but luckily we had one day that was almost completely without rain. We made the most of it by renting a tandem bike and exploring several islands.

The bike only had one gear, and took a little getting used to. I dare say we looked a bit ridiculous at the start, trying to figure out in what order we needed to each get on and start pedaling and whatnot. Luckily Åland is quite flat, and we were able to make it up the few hills (mostly bridges) without needing to get off and push.

We took a rest stop for homemade cake and coffee at the only cafe to be found in this group of islands. A couple local women were inside knitting and chatting, and the cafe was full of their homemade crafts. We sat outside and pretended the wind was pleasant rather than bone-chilling. The chocolate cake was delicious.

As we pedaled back to Mariehamn along the beach, we came across a flock of peacocks. As you do.

We had fun watching two males chase a female around like something out of a cartoon – in and out of the peacock house, around and around. She’d even hide and then run the other way after the guys had run by. Meanwhile we were trying to figure out how one gets a peacock to show his tail. Do they do it when threatened? Horny? Hungry? Tired of the sun never going down? After Scott’s attempts at playing an agressive rival peacock failed to produce results, we were about to give up, go back to the hotel, and google it. And then all of a sudden two of them decided we were worthy of their tail displays. Naturally that is the moment in which the camera card decided to be full.

If you are the type who enjoys cycling tours (not just day-trips like we did, but real tours), then you may want to check out Åland. The islands are gorgeous and easy to cycle (flat, very little car traffic). Plus many of the local ferries are free for cyclists. It’s so tempting even I’m considering if I want to go back and do a cycling tour, and trust me, I’m not the type.

No movie theaters in Åland

I have a thing for places whose names start with Å. Take Å, for example, which we visited last year. When I read about a group of islands off of Finland called Åland, I knew I had to go there, too. I can tell you’re impressed with my sophisticated decision-making process.

Åland is a group of about a bajillion tiny islands located in the Baltic between Finland and Sweden. It’s officially part of Finland, but has a bunch of autonomy and is in some ways like an independent country. Enough for me to add it to my list of countries I’ve visited? Up for debate… Åland has its own stamps and its own internet suffix (.ax). It also has different taxation rules than the rest of Finland (allowing the booze cruise industry to thrive). Its residents speak more Swedish than Finnish.

Åland has exactly one town, Mariehamn, a bustling metropolis of 11,000 people. It’s where we stayed, mainly for convenience (it’s where the big ships dock, and we weren’t sure if we wanted to rent a car to get to the more far-flung accommodations). Given the rainy, stormy weather we had for our time on the islands, we were happy to be in civilization, so at least we had good restaurants and other entertainment. But as the title of this post suggests, there wasn’t all that much on offer.

Marienhamn has two museums, one on maritime history and one with Ålandic art and history. Unfortunately the history was not presented using very much English. While some of the art was interesting, most of it left the impression that anyone who had ever picked up a paintbrush on these islands had at least one piece in the show.

We were impressed with the quality of the restaurants in Mariehamn, where we enjoyed three decent evening meals out. Indigo came highly recommended, and delivered the tastiest food in the best atmosphere (plus it has Newcastle on tap). FP von Knorring sits on a boat in the harbor on the eastern side of the town, and served up delicious fish and vegetarian fare. A few meters away is the glass pavilion Club Marin, which lured us (me, anyway) in with its interesting-sounding vegetarian options. The food was surprisingly tasty, although the tired decor and lack of decent beer made the whole experience merely so-so.

Up next: how we spent our one day of good weather in Åland.

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